THE BOOK PAN, 1966 pp 191
The book was bought from EGB in Brighton, and so is a surviving “original”. Not sure what the picture is supposed to represent; the murder takes place during a firework display in St Loo, but this looks like some kind of Chinese dragon.
The Fontana edition is from 1977, a Tom Adams cover featuring an airman and his failing plane, one of the Buckley girls and the WW1 gun that shot one of them. The airman Seton does not appear in the book (he was flying round the world at the time) which was written in the wake of Amy Johnson’s solo flight to Australia in 1930.
Poirot and Hastings take a week’s break on the Cornish Riviera and meet a girl who claims to have survived three near-death experiences. By the end you can make that five, with a sixth to come, which it is implied that she would not survive. In between, her namesake cousin is shot.
A pretty strong cast, from murderer down to victim, with no ciphers: Fredericka Rice, the enigma, a drug addict treated with compassion; Vyse, the cold lawyer with strong morals; Challenger (“navy man, can’t mistake the type”, but Hastings of course does); the gentle Maggie Buckley and the shrewd Lazarus. Even the murderer is quite likeable.
Christie had an equivocal opinion of doctors and quite often they were disreputable characters in her stories. In this one, the Harley St specialist Dr McAllister is at the centre of a cocaine racket.
Inspector Japp re-appears for the first time in 8 years, the unlikely premiss being that he needed to come in person to deliver some information requested by Poirot.
Some of Agatha Christie’s references to Jewish people in the 1920s books make this reader shudder, so it was with some trepidation that I looked for her characters’ descriptions of Jim Lazarus
He’s a Jew, of course, but a frightfully decent one
A tall, fair rather exquisite young man, with a rather fleshy nose and over-emphasised good looks. He had a supercilious manner and a tired drawl. There was a sleekness about him I especially disliked
He is clever, that one. Note the shape of the head
I dismiss the long-nosed M. Lazarus who has offered fifty pounds for a picture that was only worth twenty (it is odd, that, when you come to think of it. Most uncharacteristic of his race)
So far, so 1920s. However, this time she has Lazarus emerge as the kindest and shrewdest character in the book, and providing the love interest to boot. At the end, Poirot even asks the clever Lazarus to explain to him something he cannot understand.
SWIGATHA RATING 7/10
Very readable and amusing, as most of the books narrated by Hastings are. It features one of those famous inadvertent comments of his that end up revealing the truth to Poirot, which are always good fun. I loved it as a child.
The identity of the murderer is pretty obvious to an adult, however, and in case anyone fails to spot whodunit, Swigatha gives it away in the chapter headings :
Ch 9. A to J
Ch 20. J
Ch 21. The Person – K.
Unless Poirot, Hastings or Japp is guilty, there is only one person it could be, because the suspects listed A to J had included every other character in the book, even a small ‘ghoulish’ child.
WHERE IT LED
Peril at End House established something of a gateway into a golden age for Agatha Christie, especially for those books featuring Poirot. It is another level up from the books that she had published in the 1920s. Many elements would recur in her later works1, and her seasoned readers would soon realise that, for example:
- When a letter is shown, scrutinise it very carefully
- When a character claims someone is trying to kill them, scrutinise them very carefully
- First names and nicknames can be very misleading
Even so, she would add an extra twist each time that made it unlikely that readers would work out the solution.
It also led to the toning-down of casual prejudice in the dialogue in future books, and the re-introduction as a regular of Inspector Japp, who would appear in many of the Poirot stories until his final appearance in 1940 (in One, Two, Buckle My Shoe).
The book was turned into a play by Arnold Ridley in 1940 (the playwright later played Pte Godfrey in Dad’s Army).
In 1990, Peril at End House became the first full-length Christie novel to be adapted by ITV for its Agatha Christie’s Poirot series (up until then all we had seen from ITV were the early short stories). It is one of the very best, paying extremely close attention to the plot (apart from omitting J). All the characters look the part and Polly Walker is terrific as Nick.
1 Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks John Curran